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College Hotline - Cal football: Grading the Week

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    PLEASE NOTE: Kickoff time for Big Game will be a six-day selection by ESPN, meaning we should know Saturday night/Sunday morning. Available windows are 12;30, 5 and 7:30. The other options are USC-Oregon and UCLA-Utah. Now, let’s grade and assess Cal’s performance, with an eye to the big picture // …

    At approximately 11 p.m. on Nov. 14, 2015, the University of California Golden Bears football team will become bowl eligible for the first time in four years.

    That’s the good news for the Bears (5-4), delivered on a golden platter by Oregon State, the worst team in the conference by a significant margin.

    The bad news for Cal: Everything else.

    The Bears aren’t getting better; they’re getting worse.

    With growing frequency, they can’t defend at a competitive level, and the offense continues to bump along.

    Sonny Dykes and Tony Franklin have not found an answer to what ails the Bear Raid, and it sure seems like there is no answer:

    The league has figured Cal out; the top-tier opponents have the personnel to put the plan in action; and the scheme doesn’t work against the teams that matter.

    Speaking of:

    Dykes is now 0-11 against USC, UCLA, Oregon and Stanford, with loss No. 12 approaching quickly and looking more and more likely by the day.

    In November under Dykes, the Bears are 1-8.


    Result: Lost at Oregon 44-28

    Grade: D-

    Comment: For a long stretch, it looked like capitulation. But the Bears showed a bit of resolve and climbed back into it.

    OK, maybe not into it. But to the outskirts of it.

    The defense, which yielded 44 points and more yards than Oregon has ever gained (777), gets an F.

    The performance Saturday was reminiscent – although not quite as inept – as the loss at UCLA two weeks earlier, which was reminiscent of so many losses last year, and the year before.

    *** We’ll give Cal’s offense a D.

    The 28 points constituted Cal’s greatest output in a month, but it’s hardly an impressive total or a sign the Bear Raid is fully operational.

    The porous Ducks had been allowing 40 ppg in league play. Relative to that figure, Cal’s output feels like 17 or 20 points against an average defense.

    Opponents don’t fear Cal’s running game, they’re playing press coverage on the receivers (causing a timing disruption); and they’re overpowering an offensive line that’s always in a two-point stance and seemingly lacks the leverage that comes when you put a hand on the turf.

    It’s too easy to knock the Bears backward and collapse the pocket. (For all Oregon’s problems on defense, the line is respectable.)

    *** From the department of disturbing signs: The Bears feeling, and expressing, doubt.

    This, folks, is all about leadership, and it starts at the top.

    I thought Dykes made a tactical error after the USC game when he said, “We should be playing better than we’re playing on offense, no question about it. We’ve got to get it figured out.”

    When the HC of a program admits publicly to not having answers — especially a program that hasn’t experienced success — that opens the door for doubt to sweep in.

    The players hear Dykes say that (or read it), and they start to wonder, just like you and me, if the staff, in fact, has any answers.

    Then you get hammered in Eugene for a fourth consecutive loss, and the situation begins to spiral out of control.

    But no worries this week: The Beavers are coming! The Beavers are coming!

    *** Cal in situational football:

    Turnover margin: +1
    Third down conversions: 6 of 15
    Red zone TDs: 2 of 5

    Note: Oregon converted 10 of 17 third downs

    Next up: vs. Oregon State.

    The matchup: Extremely favorable: No way the Bears lose this game.

    The Beavers don’t have the personnel to exploit Cal’s weaknesses. The greatest challenge for the Bears, frankly, is not succumbing to the temptation to read anything into the outcome:

    No matter how well they perform, no matter how efficiently they execute, the game will tell us nothing about Cal’s prospects for Big Game.

    *** But if we could take a moment to look beyond Big Game …

    The finale against Arizona State sure seems winnable — more winnable than it looked before the season and for two months. In other words, the Bears have an excellent chance to finish 7-5.

    Yes, it would be a flawed 7-5, with losses in all the games that matter (USC, UCLA, Stanford and Cal) and a sub-.500 conference record.

    But it would be a winning record just two years after 1-11.

    What would it mean for Sonny Dykes’ future?

    Methinks there will be plenty of time to address that situation in coming weeks.

    *** Cal opened as a 17.5-point favorite over OSU, and the line quickly zoomed to 20.

    Three touchdowns seems about right … for the first half.

    The Beavers have little chance to contain the Bear Raid, flawed as it might be; and Cal’s defense, which has played exceptionally well at home, should dominate whether OSU quarterback Seth Collins is healthy or not.

    (Collins has been out with a knee injury; his status this week is uncertain.)

    *** Bowl eligibility will be official at 11ish, but the Bears should be able to star celebrating — Foster Farms? Las Vegas? Cactus? — well before the final whistle.

    xxxxxxx

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    by Jon Wilner
     

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